Aurora students will learn virtually for their first quarter this fall

Young boy using a tablet.
Aurora’s board directed school to start remotely for the entire first quarter. (Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash)

Aurora’s school board on Friday asked to change its district’s fall reopening plan to start school online.

The new plan would have students learning remotely, not just for a minimum of two weeks as other districts have done, but for the entire first quarter.

“If we have this many questions left unanswered, I’m going to go out and say we’re not ready to start face-to-face learning,” board member Vicki Reinhard said. “I believe it’s risky.”

Rico Munn, Aurora’s superintendent, challenged the notion that the district wasn’t ready for school to restart and commended his staff for creating detailed plans. But this week he also has voiced concerns about the level of community transmission of the coronavirus. 

Board member Nichelle Ortiz said board members have heard from principals who feel they aren’t ready, as well as from a number of other school staff.

“It’s not just union teachers and concerned parents, it’s every aspect of this district — nurses, admin,” and part-time staff, Ortiz said, who are “reaching out and letting us know their concerns.”

The board asked the district to survey principals about what help they need from the district to finalize their school’s plans to reopen.

Last month, Aurora’s school board approved a later school start date and a plan to bring students back into buildings. But the number of cases of COVID-19 have been rapidly rising again in Colorado and the state’s two largest districts recently stepped back from reopening plans, in favor instead of starting remotely for at least two weeks. 

The school board asked administrators to outline conditions to help determine whether the district moves to a hybrid or in-person model for the second quarter, which starts Oct. 9. The measures they may consider could include the state’s rating of the county based on the COVID incidence rate. Board members said they’d like to see the number of new cases decrease.

State officials have not answered questions about which metrics would cause them to say it’s not safe to open schools, leaving many decisions up to districts. 

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At another board meeting Tuesday, Munn said the current situation did concern him, and proposed that the board commit to switch to a different reopening plan if Adams and Arapahoe counties continued to have high incidence rates on Aug. 3.

“We would be concerned if we stayed on that high trajectory,” Munn said, “if we continue to see cases rising at that level. We do, however, still have some time.”

But board members Tuesday were unfamiliar with the metrics and uncomfortable waiting until August to reverse course.

When students start school remotely, the board also wants the district to allow school buildings to host small groups of high-needs students — such as students with special needs or those who need extra help, including English language learners.

Around the state, districts are watching public health conditions as they make decisions about reopening. Denver and Jeffco school officials cited the rising number of cases in the community when they announced the school year would start remotely. 

In the Roaring Fork district, officials created a “road map” similar to what Aurora is proposing that linked the school model — remote, hybrid, or in-person — to the risk level for the disease as determined by the state’s rating of the county situation.

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